In the midst of lockdown, reading can be a great form of escapism, and what better way to truly immerse yourself in another world than by picking up a 500+ page novel? Here are some sizeable classics we recommend.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This Russian classic will surely help the time to pass during lockdown, and not just because of its size. The tragic story follows an extramarital affair between the titular character and Count Alexei Vronsky, while also narrating the intriguing lives of the complimentary characters, such as Dolly and Kitty. Tolstoy puts forward a strong commentary on desire, society and the conflict within. Passion and scandal radiate through every page. The characters in Saint Petersburg’s high society are equally appalled and enticed by the scandal.
Published in 1878, Tolstoy’s classic is divided into eight parts. The key element that makes this novel such a success is the author's ability to brilliantly capture the essence of Anna. He has been praised for successfully writing and understanding women, allowing for an honest depiction. I agree with this, as Tolstoy manages to write female qualities in a non-stereotypical way, focusing on jealousy. This lends itself to the other themes being successfully explored, like betrayal. Once you have managed to complete this lengthy novel, you can reward yourself with its many adaptations, the most famous being the 2012 film starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Regarded by many as one of the greatest novels, Middlemarch explores the lives of the inhabitants of a fictional Midlands village in the 1830s. Eliot uses a humorous but realistic style to explore the inner and outer lives of the characters in the utmost personal detail.
Although its length can seem intimidating, Middlemarch is an incredibly engaging read, and once I'd got into it, I found it hard to put down. For that reason, Middlemarch is a perfect long read for lockdown. It is witty and incisive, and, most of all, it centres on the unadulterated and flawed humanity of normal people. It is this depiction of such incredibly real characters that stuck with me long after I had finished the book, and I find Eliot's characters quite comforting in a time when we can see so little of others. If you need a condensed dose of people in all their flawed and inconsistent glory, this is the book for you.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Published in 1952, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a novel that has continued to draw in readers with its lyrical prose and insightful discussion of social, psychological and political issues faced by African Americans in the first half of the 20th century.
In the opening of the novel, the narrator discusses his invisibility, stating that it is not a physical condition, but a feeling that results from the refusal of others to see him as a person. This idea is central to the narrator’s exploration of identity throughout the novel; his journey to find himself is consistently undermined by racism and the limitations it places on his ability to act and choose a life for himself. As the plot unfolds, Ellison explores questions of identity whilst discussing the limitations of ideology, the intersecting threads of race, history and memory that pervade his everyday reality, and themes of power, ambition and dreams. Invisible Man is powerful, deeply thought-provoking and continuously relevant, and reading this 500+ page novel is definitely a worthy investment of your time.
Here are some more classics we recommend:
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
First published in 1862, Les Misérables is undoubtedly one of the most formidable French classics. The five volumes are devoted to following the incredible characters, including protagonist Jean Valjean, a convict who broke parole and is on a quest to reform. Later, the novel explores the French Revolution and the struggles of love.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Choosing Crime and Punishment might seem like the obvious Dostoevsky choice, but The Brothers Karamazov is a truly spectacular read that isn't recommended enough. Set in 19th-century Russia, Dostoevsky’s final novel is deeply philosophical, exploring questions of life and death, God, morality and evil. With a plot that revolves around patricide and the history of a complicated family dynamic, this is a novel that keeps you guessing and, importantly, gripped until the very end.
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
While Anthony Trollope has a slightly lower profile than Charles Dickens, he is another of the great Victorian novelists and should be recommended far more widely.
The perfect place to start is Can You Forgive Her?, a novel that follows the lives, choices, and marriages of three women. Trollope writes fantastic, dynamic female characters, making Can You Forgive Her? an incredibly engaging and modern read.